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John Davis: Worland Goes From Summer To ‘Instant Winter

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By John Davis, guest columnist

This fall has been mild in Worland; less than two weeks ago the high temperatures were in the 80s.  But that changed drastically last week.  On Sunday, October 25, the weather program on our Ipad declared that it was 16 below, and a usually reliable source told me that the official low that morning was 18 below.

Of course, every fall summer loses its hold and unwelcome freezing temperatures arrive.  

In general, Worland is warm for Wyoming.  Our elevation is 4,062 feet and we’re supposed to have the longest growing season in the state, some 144 days.  But it is still in Wyoming, and in most years our summer is ignominiously extinguished by an arctic cold front.  

I don’t remember, however, any year in which it got this cold this early.  It probably happened, I just don’t remember it.  

I do recall one year, sometime in the 1980s, I think, in which the usual killer arctic cold front arrived with a vengeance; the temperature got down to something like 25 below in the first few days of pheasant hunting season, meaning in very early November. 

Being young and stupid I still went hunting on the first day of the season.  I just about froze, but did get some birds.  

The hunting trip was not fun, however, for reasons other than the temperature.  That was the year in which I fired through some Russian Olive trees, thinking that my hunting partner was further to my left than he was, and I accidentally hit him with some pellets.  Upsetting experience.

Usually freezing temperatures are not so severe that you have difficulty adjusting.  Arctic cold fronts are normally abrupt, although they don’t often go from 80 to 18 below in a short period.  

And when the temperatures are this abrupt, and last for a few days, it is hard to adjust.  

Even within my home, with the thermostat turned up, it has seemed that the tentacles of the cold have reached into the house and touched me to the core.  

I remember the interior temperature within the house being 70 degrees, and still shivering from the cold.  I think the reason for this response is that my body didn’t have time to adjust to cold temperatures.  

We do change every year, by the elevation of hormones within our blood.  Short term exposures, however, do not cause much change in hormonal levels.  Longer exposures, on the other hand, accelerate hormonal changes and condition us to cold.  

I can remember January days in which it warmed up, to say, a high in the 30s.  Having gone through a few weeks of cold winter, it suddenly seemed balmy.  You could go outside wearing only a light jacket and not feel uncomfortable from the cold.   

Wyoming, for some reason, is especially subject to cold air coming from the north.  

I lived for a school year in New Hampshire, and then for two years in New Jersey, and never experienced abrupt weather changes such as I’ve encountered in Wyoming.  

I remember a fellow in New Hampshire saying to me that if you don’t like the temperature, just wait a little while and it will change.  

And I also remember being crass enough to correct him, noting that the remarkable thing about New Hampshire temperatures was how steady they were compared to the Rocky Mountain area. 

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John Davis: The Coronavirus Comes To Worland, Wyoming

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By John W. Davis, Cowboy State Daily guest columnist

The solitude of the town of Worland and its nursing home have been shattered by an outbreak of coronavirus that has claimed the lives of three elderly people.

Worland is a town of about 5,000 people situated in the southern Big Horn Basin.  For its area, Worland is a large town, the biggest town in almost 90 miles in any direction.  It was founded in 1906 and had its genesis in the construction of three irrigation canals, which established a large irrigated farming area in the dry Big Horn Basin.  

Within only a few years oil was discovered in the area and Worland gained a second leg for its economy.  The town did well through the years, although sometimes suffering from the boom and bust of the energy industry.  It reached its high point of about 6,800 people in 1980, but has since gradually diminished in size.   

About 50 or 60 years ago, a nursing home was built in Worland.  It was probably done as part of a national trend.  The federal Medicare and Medicaid programs provided funding for nursing homes, responding to changes in American demographics because of increases in the lifespans of Americans from medical advances.

The Worland nursing home (now Worland Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center) quickly became part of the fabric of the community, as have similar nursing homes throughout the nation. 

The home was tucked into an attractive residential area in southeast Worland and was considered a welcome addition to the town.  It provided employment for nurses and support staff, and contributed an important service, taking care of a lot of people of advanced age (it’s listed as an 87-bed facility, although usually only houses about 60 residents). 

The facility has been owned by various companies; now it is owned by Five Star Quality Care – Wyoming LLC out of Newton, Massachusetts (near Boston).

In sum, the Worland nursing home has been a quiet and productive addition to the town. 

About the only exciting thing arising from the nursing home was the occasional “escape” from the facility by residents with such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease. 

People living close to the home would frequently note some older person moving slowly away from the nursing home complex, and would kindly call the facility and notify those in charge that someone needed to find the resident and bring him or her back to the home.

But the worlds of small, local nursing homes have been greatly changed with the arrival of the coronavirus.  The first big outbreak in the United States was in the state of Washington, when the virus invaded a nursing home in Richland, about 200 miles east of Seattle. 

The outbreak cut a deep swath of death before Washington state officials controlled it (I remember figures of 30 and 40 deaths).  People throughout the country responded aggressively to fight the virus, although they frequently underestimated its potency.

At first, the efforts of the Worland nursing home seemed to be quite successful.  There were a few cases reported in Washakie County (Worland is the county seat), but they seemed to top out at five. 

In fact, for over a month, there were no new cases of coronavirus and many people in Worland felt that the town had avoided the worst effects of the pandemic.

That attitude has changed radically in the last couple of weeks, after new coronavirus cases appeared in the Worland nursing home. 

The first reports spoke of seven new Wyoming infections in the previous week, all in Washakie County.  The sick were quickly confined to the nursing home and many of us hoped that a strict quarantine would hold down the casualties.  

The number of people afflicted, however, has now ballooned to 32, with three deaths, all three of whom were residents of the nursing home.  Among the 32, twelve residents have contracted the virus, nine members of the staff, and four community-wide members of the community.  

The remaining numbers were apparently “probables,” people who had not tested positive for the disease, but had close contacts with those who had.  The sick were quickly confined to the nursing home and many of us hope that a strict quarantine will hold down casualties.  

A call was placed to the Worland facility, and this reporter spoke to Heidi Glanz, the administrator.  Glanz was courteous, but quite firm in saying that she wasn’t authorized to discuss the outbreak; any such information could only come from corporate headquarters in Boston. 

I could understand that position, as the parent company was going to be very cautious indeed, given the disaster that a coronavirus outbreak represents for a nursing home company.

The “good” thing about this tale is that most of the people infected are young and have not experienced great sickness – many, no symptoms at all.

The State of Wyoming is on the scene here, conducting numerous tests.  I’m sure that everything that can be done is being done, but I hope that the people addressing this outbreak never forget how persistent, sometimes deadly, and very, very contagious this virus can be.    

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John Davis: Coping In Big Horn Basin During Paranoid COVID-19 Blues

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By John Davis, Worland

WORLAND – My wife and I are settling into the norms of the coronavirus life for older folks.  “Older” here means 60, which is the age usually given by medical authorities beyond which a person is more subject to drastic consequences if infected by the virus.

So, people my age are descending into a kind of self-protective cocoon, making sure we have minimal social contacts, minimal close interactions of any type with other human beings, and, in general, engaging in a kind of personal quarantine.

It’s surprising how much our lives have changed in a very short time.  All of us, of course, have established routines for eating, for shopping, for sleeping, for visiting friends, for visiting our doctors, etc.  And our new regimen has required that we change all of it.

There are, of course, certain activities that are essential, such as getting food at our one grocery store.  I heard one commentator note, however, that this is probably the most dangerous thing that old folks do, because they’re exposed to so many other people.  So, I’ve tried to limit the grocery store visits to no more than one per week and at favorable times. 

The “favorable times” part has proven more complicated than I thought, however, as the grocery store changed its hours and a lot of people in the town are obviously trying to do their grocery shopping when the store has the least number of patrons.  Last time I was at the grocery store my plans backfired, as I selected a time when a lot of other folks had the same clever idea, and we all encountered something of a crush of people.

All this is accompanied by a big dose of paranoia, knowing the severe consequences that can follow from being infected by the coronavirus.  So, there’s lots of hand-washing in between activities.  I bought apples and oranges here the other day and then wondered whether I should wash the fruit with soap and water, as well as my hands. I decided to do both. 

And then in my last bridge session (which is likely to be the last one for a good long time), I loaned a scorekeeper a stainless-steel pen.  Then I found myself worrying if the pen held the virus, and ended up sanitizing the pen and washing my hands once again.  And feeling vaguely foolish about all this.  Who washes his hands after loaning a friend a pen?  Then I encountered the quandary of whether to wash my hands after using the gas dispenser at a self-service filling station.

And on another occasion, I gave a clerk at a restaurant my credit card, which she used and swiped and returned to me.  But once again, I found myself wondering about how to protect myself:  Did I need to sanitize the card as well as wash my hands? 

The worst thing of all is the isolation from friends, some of whom I’ve known almost my entire life and whom I normally enjoy immensely.  Perhaps the most painful experiences have been when I see an old friend across a room and want to go talk to him or her, but know that it wouldn’t be prudent.  So, I just sheepishly waive from a distance.  Our lives have become so much more lonely; empty of touching, chatting, and laughing with those we care about.

Things would be better if we could all confidently look forward to a specific time when all this will go away, but when I read the various news stories about the pandemic, the only clear conclusions I can come to is that we don’t know and won’t know for some time when our burden will be lifted.     

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